San Bruno Mountain State and County Park

Wednesday, April 6, 2011, was a beautiful spring day. Tuesday was too, but on Tuesday I didn't get a chance to walk around outside as I'd hoped. I wasn't going to similarly miss getting outside on Wednesday.

I left work early, grabbed Di Yin, and we headed up to San Bruno Mountain County Park / State Park, a large park not far from San Francisco.

We did a stunning hike with views of the bay, the east bay, San Francisco's downtown, the Marin headlands, San Francisco's west-side beaches, and the Pacific Ocean. Because we were more than a thousand feet up, we could see far in every direction. The day's pictures attest. Di Yin also took pictures.

We hiked most of Summit Loop trail and also some of Dairy Ravine trail. We couldn't hike all of Summit Loop trail as we'd planned because one of the creeks was flooded, making that segment impossible to cross.

The most remarkable feature of this mountain park--beside the views of course--is the incredible wind. At times, it was probably above thirty miles an hour. Near the top of the mountain, the wind was so strong that we could lean forward and have it support us in a position that would be unstable without it. Also, the wind was so strong that we could only hear one another if the wind was going in the direction one's voice needed to travel; if the wind was pointing away from the other person, the sound was drowned out and swept away.

Interesting Articles: Q1 2011

Culture and Media:
* The Formula for a Most-Emailed Story (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). Reports on a study that examined what features make some articles more shared than others. The main factors include the obvious (prominent placement, famous author, usefulness) but also the less obvious (inducing high-arousal emotions, especially awe and anger; also, surprisingness). This pattern holds for every subject area (science, finance, politics, etc.). One caveat, however, that many commenters pointed out: this only measured people using the "e-mail this story" link, not using other ways of sharing articles; this may be an unrepresentative sample of how most people share articles. This story was also reported in the New York Times itself: Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It’s Awesome.

Politics and Psychology:
* Does Metaphorical Framing Really Work? (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). In short, the answer is yes, that how politicians frame a problem influences how people interpret evidence and think about possible solutions. And the effect is surprisingly strong. And people don't know the metaphor has influenced them. There's also some interesting commentary on the failure of the French label (freedom fries, etc.) in this segment.

Culture and Technology:
* Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You (New York Times). A true observation on modern life.

Joseph Grant County Park

On Saturday, April 2, 2011, I decided to go on a hike in Joseph D. Grant County Park, a huge park east of San Jose. It's the largest park in the county. The temperature was a pleasant sixty-something degrees. I regretted my clothing choice when trekking uphill for long stretches, but when walking downhill I was happy I didn't wear less. I guess it worked out.

The 7.5 mile hike led me up and down grassy rolling hills with pleasing views, as you can tell from the pictures I took. My route took me mainly along Halls Valley Trail, Canada de Pala Trail, and Yerba Buena Trail.

The best views I saw on this trip, however, weren't from the trail at all. Rather, the 8 mile stretch of Mount Hamilton Road leading to Grant Park is about two thousand feet above the valley. From this curvy road, there are great views down onto all of San Jose, the south end of the bay, and even across Silicon Valley to the Skyline mountain range on the other side. I wish I could've taken pictures, but the majority of the road (and especially all the sections with tremendous views) were labeled emergency parking only. :( All I could do was drive slowly and enjoy the vista.

Mar 27: Pismo Beach

Sunday was a quiet day. We strolled around the hotel, ate a light breakfast (we weren't hungry after gorging ourselves the previous night), then drove to town to stroll around Pismo Beach itself. We walked on the boardwalk and down the pier (which was probably a quarter of a mile long). We didn't see much of the town because Di Yin's legs were still tired from LACMA two days previous so she didn't want to walk much. From what I saw, it looks like a classic California beach tourist town. It has a type of small town charm that feels old-fashioned, reminiscent of an earlier generation of beach communities. Before we left we grabbed a light lunch, then headed north on 101 toward home.

I took an assortment of shots this day, including a full tour of the hotel and our suite.

Di Yin also took pictures. The link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #147). If you're in slideshow mode and see a picture of our apartment's courtyard, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures I already linked to.

Los Angeles: Mar 26: The La Brea Tar Pits, Soda Pop, BBQ, and more

After breakfast at our hotel, we decided to use the morning to visit The La Brea Tar Pits. Funnily, these turned out to be next to LACMA, where we were the previous day.

As usual, I took pictures. Di Yin also took some. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #103). When you see a picture of the Pismo Lighthouse Suites (our hotel) in the morning (picture #147), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

The Tar Pits, twelve thousand to forty thousand years old, are the world's richest deposit of ice-age fossils. We wandered around the grounds, finding them a bit stinky (which added to the ambiance), and explored the associated museum. Both were mildly entertaining.

As we walked by the tar pits, I observed that the people inside the nearby LACMA building were viewing art, mainly created by now-dead beings, while we were viewing fossils, another product of dead things. Furthermore, most of the art is made of oil, a by-product of the breakdown of animal matter; meanwhile, the fossils are also a by-product of the breakdown of animal matter.

We strolled through the sculpture garden between the tar pits and LACMA, then entered the Page Museum, which is basically a natural history museum displaying fossils from and information about the tar pits. I learned that over a million bones from six hundred species have been recovered from the tar pits, including animals such as mammoths (with a hip bone more than five feet across), mastodons, dire wolves, horses (an extinct variety of Western horses), and saber-tooth cats. Enough animals got buried that paleontologists have samples of bones from the same species at different ages.

First thing in the museum, we watched the museum's hokey introduction cartoon video. It was overly dramatic with an over-the-top plot, using expressions such as "it was becoming another death trap" and "and then a pack of dire wolves appear." In contrast, the video we watched before we left, a behind-the-scenes movie, was quite well done.

We also played with an interactive exhibit that showed how hard it is to pull oneself out of tar.

After the museum, we headed to visit a baby shower / birthday party for some friends (C and J) of Di Yin. (This was nominally the excuse for our trip to L.A.) They live in a hilltop house by Eagle Rock in Glendale. The house is nicely designed, renovated by a previous artist tenant, and has amazing views of the surrounding valley. Sorry I didn't take pictures. I could live in a house like it.

After staying at the party for a while, we bid our adieu and headed to a place I've always wanted to visit in L.A.: Galco's Soda Pop Stop. The shop is conveniently in Glendale, so we decided to stop by. It's basically a fun market devoted entirely to soda, also with a good selection of beers and unusual alcohol. I bought a lot: lemongrass soda, rhubarb soda, cucumber soda, honey wine, Asian pear sake, and four kinds of hard cider by a manufacturer (Woodchuck) that we tried and liked in Tarrytown but I hadn't seen since.

With bottles clinking in our trunk, we drove on 101 north to Pismo Beach, the town where we were to spend the night. 101 along the coast passes green hills sweeping into the ocean. We also drove along Santa Barbara's waterfront, pier, and beachy park lined with palm trees. We took 152 west from Santa Barbara, which goes through Los Padres National Forest and a vast mountain range. One bridge made us feel like we were driving in the sky. Along the drive, rain showers came and went, and were sometimes heavy. On the other side of the range, we weaved by some hills with trees that seemed artistically scattered. I later noticed these hills were used as grazing lands, and the trees were probably placed so they're spaced evenly enough that the cows wouldn't neglect any of the grass, even on a hot summer day.

Once in Pismo Beach, we checked into our hotel, the Pismo Lighthouse Suites, researched nearby restaurants, and headed out to eat. Our hotel, by the way, was remarkably nice. I'll post more about it in the next day's pictures.

We ended up eating an enormous, terrific dinner at Alex's BBQ (technically Alex Bar-B-Q). Details are in the pictures.

Los Angeles: Mar 25: Santa Monica, LACMA, and Korean (x2)

This was a big day, during which time I took lots of pictures. The pictures dive into a lot more detail on some things that this post mentions only in passing. Di Yin also took many pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #46). When you see a picture of a Korean taco truck (picture #102), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

First, we headed down to our hotel's breakfast. As we sat in the large eating area over our basic breakfast spread, we planned our day. Then, off we went to Santa Monica.

We explored the Santa Monica pier, its beach, and its amusement park. It was a beautiful day to be outside, if a little cold. I learned the government tried to demolish the pier in the 1970s, but popular opposition to the plan saved it.

We wandered through downtown Santa Monica. I'd previously wandered up and down Santa Monica's main pedestrian street, 3rd Street, before. It's still nice.

We grabbed a huge lunch at Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery in Santa Monica. The sandwiches were tasty enough that we finished them, and so filling that we didn't need to eat dinner until after 8:00pm. It's an extensive deli. In the deli counter cases, I counted seven types of pasta salad and a huge selection of antipastos including four different artichoke ones. Photographs were prohibited inside. :( I guess I can kind of understand: the place was so bustling that it would be crazy if people were stopping at random places to take pictures.

After lunch, Di Yin and I wandered into my company's secondary satellite office in Santa Monica. I knew we had a satellite office in Santa Monica but I didn't know we have a second one. There we met a friend, B, who gave us a short tour.

Finally, off we were to a museum. On the way there, we by chance drove through Little Ethiopia. It has lots of Ethiopian restaurants on its main block. Ah, the diversity of L.A.

We spent the rest of the day at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Don't judge it by its name--it's a shockingly extensive museum that's worthy of any top tier international city. It covers European paintings from the 15th through 20th centuries (including religious art), American art (with a focus on California), Latin American art (covering all eras) (the western Mexico sculptures were especially neat), Pacific islands sculptures/carved art, Luristan art (middle east), Islamic Art, South Asian sculpture (tons of them: Hinduism, Buddhism), including Tibet, Japanese art (drawings, sculpture, ceramics, scrolls, screens), and Korean art. There are Assyrian reliefs, sketches by Grosz, and various Diego Rivera pieces. There are also plates, sculptures, relics, and even axe heads in the art of the ancient world section. *take a breath* Many styles are represented: impressionist (some nice Picassos, Monets, Cezannes, and Renoirs), cubism, the Bauhaus school of art (Klee, Kandinsky), German expressionism, abstract (some of which I like), modern, contemporary (lots of Warhols, Koones), surrealist, and even what's known as bay area figuration. I can still recognize Renoirs from across the room. Also, I noticed Rembrandt is good at 3-d-looking portraits.

Basically the museum has everything from the world over except Chinese art. Di Yin, who given her background and her research knows about the state of museum collections, says that the LACMA has one of the best Latin American collections in the U.S., one of the best near east collections, and also one of the best (and only?) Korean collections. Indeed, LACMA has a whole wing of Korean art, and I can't remember seeing much space devoted to Korean works in any other museum.

The museum is spread over multiple buildings and encompassed by a nice outdoor space. People relaxed there in the sun a la how I saw people relax at the Getty Center.

We also visited the special exhibits: a photography one on Larry Fink, one on human nature, and one on European fashion 1700-1915. The last, covering both men and women, had interesting labels explaining the evolution of style, how technology made fabrics easier to create and manipulate, and how fashion responded to the need of practicality. Regarding the first point, example excerpt from a label: "from the 1860s, skirt volume shifted to the posterior." :) I found the section of the fashion exhibit that discussed textiles and such less interesting.

We spent 4.5 hours in the museum. It has few informational plaques except room-level descriptions; most of the time was spent viewing things, not reading.

Incidentally, Di Yin observed that all the museum guards are Filipino.

It was a good thing we ate a big, late-ish lunch. By now it was 8pm or so and we weren't yet particularly hungry. For the first part of dinner, we drove downtown to rendezvous with one of Kogi's Korean taco trucks. On the way there, we happened to pass through Koreatown. The taco truck was a good (tasting) stop. For part two, we headed back into a different part of Koreatown for KyoChon Korean Fried Chicken. It was delicious--another success! We drove through yet another part of Koreatown on the way back to the hotel. K-Town is large!

Los Angeles: Mar 24: To L.A.

After eating breakfast at work, we started our drive to L.A. in intense rain. After an hour the rain lessened, allowing us to enjoy the views of green hills near 101 and especially along 152. The wind took longer to let up; it jerked the car around a bit. Incidentally, despite the dampness, Gilroy smelled strongly of roasted garlic.

On the drive on 101, we spotted (and thankfully avoided) a tire tread in the fast lane. Then, 30 miles later, we spotted another one in the shoulder. Then, by a pull-off on 152 an hour later, we found lots of shredded tires. How odd.

The sights off 152 were so pretty that we stopped four times, three times in view of the San Luis Reservoir. This is when I started taking photos. Our last stop was at the San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area's Romero Overlook Visitors Center.

Incidentally, Di Yin took more pictures than me this day. The link goes to her first picture from her album for this trip. When you see a picture of me taking a picture of a parking garage machine (picture #46) or of Santa Monica's pier (picture #47), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

Because of the clouds and lighting, we enjoyed the sights not only on highway 152 but along the whole drive. Indeed, as Di Yin said, "It's a good day to drive to L.A. The landscape is fully dramatized."

Once in L.A., we checked into our hotel, Hollywood Hotel, which was perfectly decent.

We headed out again to meet our friends B and E for dinner. The rain returned, dangerously so.

B and E selected Palmeri, an Italian restaurant near them. It was good. I appreciated that the chef was light-handed (i.e., not heavy-handed) in making the dishes. Sorry I didn't take pictures at dinner.

We had good seared scallops and a roasted potato and sausage dish as appetizers. I also tried the fried zucchini flower special; it was zucchini flowers stuffed with lots of creamy cheese, deep-fried, and served in a bowl made from fried parmesan. The parmesan complemented the flowers well, but I was nevertheless disappointed with the dish--I'd hoped for a lightly fried dish of zucchini flowers, not a rich, cheesy deep-fried thing. (I should've tried the other special which also sounded intriguing: a salad of finely sliced raw artichoke.) Di Yin tried the beet salad, which was presented in an unusual form: beets were chopped and pressed in a mass a la pate or cake.

For mains, I had the tortelli, a delicious, light pasta stuffed with pork (technically amatriciana) and tossed with a bit of spinach and asparagus. Di Yin's lasagna special was similarly light. B's pillowy gnocchi special was dressed with truffle oil.

Our waiter was humorous, and gently ribbed us.

Di Yin observed the restaurant was filled with "pretty L.A. people" and wondered if the whole city was like this. We also spotted a group that looked like mobsters.

After dinner we walked to Yogurtland, one of L.A.'s many joints that sell frozen yogurt by the ounce. I tried and liked the vanilla. The pistachio was fairly good too. The devil's food cupcake batter flavor was really chocolatey.

Los Angeles Overview

Di Yin and I drove to Los Angeles on Thursday, March 24, 2011. We left L.A. on Saturday, March 26, and, after stopping in a central Californian town for the night, returned to the bay area on Sunday, March 27.

I've been to Los Angeles four times before: once on a road trip with B to visit E (2002?) (unrecorded), once with S and Oj in 2005, once on a company trip to visit Disneyland in 2008, and once to again visit E in 2009.

Los Angeles is a city a la how the bay area is a city. (Notice how I said the bay area--as a whole--not San Francisco.) Much of L.A. feels like dense suburbia, not like a city per se. There are corner strip malls packed everywhere. There are also both squat apartment buildings and single-family houses, all placed together with often little space between. Furthermore, Los Angeles is huge, probably the size of the whole bay area.

Los Angeles has a remarkable diversity of tasty food. From my experiences this trip, I have no doubt one can find a good version of any cuisine, any dish, that one wants.

However, my main memory of L.A. will be its drivers. They're aggressive; they drive too fast and don't signal. This really came home to me the times I had to drive in heavy rain (unusual for L.A., I think)--people sped past me as if there was perfect visibility, while I was driving ten (or more) under, straining to see out the windshield. The lane markings practically disappeared.

L.A. tried to kill me twice! Both times were as cars in one lane that were stopped (because someone ahead in the lane was waiting to make a left) jumped into my lane without looking or signaling. Loud honking and rapid braking ensued.

Also, L.A. has many red-light runners. I don't mean the typical thing that when a light turns red the first car will sneak across. Indeed, L.A. is filled with unprotected lefts, but I'm not complaining about red-light runners for those--you need to run those if you're going to get anywhere. But the runners in L.A. take it to extremes, with three or four cars crossing against the red to make a left. This even rubs off on how drivers go straight through intersections; sometimes, cars clearly enter it after the light has changed.

Potholes are a pretty bad problem in L.A., more so than anywhere else I recall. We found a couple so deep (six inches) that they're shocking, and they jostle the car dangerously.

Overall, it felt more dangerous driving in L.A. than anywhere else I've ever driven.